DEMS MOVE TO BLOCK TRUMP FROM LIFTING SANCTIONS ON DERIPASKA
Congressional Democrats are gaming out strategies to try to reverse the Trump administration’s controversial decision last month to lift sanctions on businesses controlled by Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska.
Rep. Jim Himes, a Connecticut Democrat and member of the House intelligence committee, told The Daily Beast he has been discussing the matter with other members. And he’s eager for Trump administration officials to answer lawmakers’ questions about their move.
“I think senior Treasury people should come to the Hill and explain this deal,” he said.
“We need to get more information fast,” he added, “and of course the leverage that we have is a resolution of disapproval.”
While House Democrats are considering their own response, Senate Democrats have taken more concrete steps. On Friday, Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) took the first formal step in registering his caucus’ discomfort with the sanctions relief by setting the table for a resolution of disapproval.
“I do so not because I have concluded that Congress should act to disapprove this agreement—I have not made that determination yet—but to preserve the procedural option of moving to bring up such a resolution at the end of the review process, if necessary, for expedited review and a vote by the full Senate,” Schumer said in a statement.
In his statement, Schumer said lawmakers will continue to assess the basis for the Trump administration’s decision to provide sanctions relief to Deripaska-linked businesses.
If Schumer decides to file a resolution of disapproval, such an effort would not be a small feat. It would need simple majorities in both the House and Senate in order to get to the president’s desk. At that point, the president could either sign it or lawmakers would have to muster the votes to override a presidential veto.
If successful, the resolution would stop the Treasury Department from lifting sanctions on the Deripaska-controlled companies EN+, Rusal, and EuroSibEnergo. It would do so via a mechanism in the Russia sanctions package approved in 2017, the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). Passed overwhelmingly by Congress over President Donald Trump’s objections, , CAATSA allows the House and Senate to block White House efforts to alter sanctions by passing a joint resolution of disapproval within 30 days of the administration’s announcement.
Lawmakers involved in the talks told The Daily Beast that the CAATSA appeared to be the best legislative vehicle to block the lifting of sanctions on the Deripaska-linked businesses.
Deripaska has proven to be an inviting target for lawmakers. His ties to Trump’s former campaign chief Paul Manafort, which Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team has investigated, run deep.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), one of the lawmakers who has been cued into the effort to preserve the sanctions, said lawmakers should act “in a way that avoids interference with any law enforcement investigations or the House’s possible investigations.” Other Senators involved in the discussions include Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), both of whom have criticized the Trump administration’s implementation of mandatory sanctions against Russia.
House Democratic leaders have not yet committed to bringing up the resolution, but House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) told The Daily Beast that “Democrats will look at all available options on this important issue.”
Last month, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote a letter to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin urging him to reconsider his push to lift the sanctions against Deripaska. But the administration announced two weeks later that it would formally lift them, prompting furious condemnation from Menendez and other lawmakers.
The administration has argued that the sanctions, which were conceived inadvertently and without following proper inter-agency protocols, were roiling international markets. European nations pleaded with the U.S. to lift the sanctions in particular against Rusal, a major global aluminum supplier which Deripaska controls, because the financial punishments against the company had triggered significant increases in aluminum prices.
In exchange for lifting the sanctions, Deripaska was required to abandon his majority ownership in EN+, the main company which has Rusal in its portfolio. Under the agreement, Deripaska must also add Americans to his corporate boards, and he would personally remain on the official U.S. list of sanctioned Russians. Menendez had said the sanctions should not be lifted “unless and until Mr. Deripaska divests from and relinquishes control of both companies.” Himes said he wants more information from the Treasury Department about the terms of the agreement.
“I think it’s important for us to dissect the specifics of a post-transaction EN+ and Rusal because one concern I have is that Mr. Deripaska will retain effective control with the transaction as outlined by Treasury,” Himes said.
Jamil Jaffer, who previously served as chief counsel and senior adviser to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee where he helped write two sanctions laws targeting Russia, told The Daily Beast that Treasury’s move to lift sanctions on the Deripaska-linked businesses deserves more scrutiny from the Hill.
“Given that Congress overwhelmingly pushed for these sanctions in a bipartisan fashion and provided the Treasury Department with the statutory authorities in play here and particularly because Russia continues its aggressive covert and overt influence campaign against the United States, close and continuing oversight is wholly appropriate and, indeed, is critical,” said Jaffer.